Go to enough hockey games and you’re bound to see something brand new.
Such as Marc Staal on the ice in a three-on-three overtime, as the alternate captain was for a 45-second shift in Sunday’s 3-2 shootout defeat to the Flyers at the Garden.
“Never before,” Staal said, pleased to confirm he hadn’t jumped on in some sort of communication failure from behind the bench. “Me and [Dan Girardi] used to sit at the end of the bench with our chinstraps on tight and just enjoyed the show.”
Necessity and seemingly improved mobility were the mothers of this David Quinn invention. For with Kevin Shattenkirk injured and Tony DeAngelo a healthy scratch for the second consecutive night, the coach didn’t have a slam-dunk third ‘D’ to go in the OT behind Neal Pionk and Brady Skjei.
“A lot of times, too, a defensive play can make the difference in OT,” Staal said. “You know, break up a two-on-one and go the other way.”
Actually, one of the most famous overtime goals in international hockey history came off just that kind of defensive play made by Paul Coffey in the 1984 Canada-USSR Canada Cup semifinal. The Oilers’ defenseman broke up a two-on-one then led the counter-rush into the offensive zone on which Mike Bossy got the winner. That, of course, was five-on-five hockey.
There were no odd-man rushes for Staal to disrupt in this one. There were certainly no dramatic dashes the other way led by No. 18, who did in fact take a shot that was blocked while on with Mika Zibanejad and Filip Chytil.
Staal, in his 12th season, has become more of a factor in the Blueshirts offense, joining the rush more often and getting himself into prime shooting range. That’s the game, even if not precisely his game.
“I’d like to have put a few more in,” said the first-pair lefty whose two goals came within a four-game span bridging November and December. “Even on nights where I might not really be feeling it or don’t have my legs, I try to jump in when the opportunity is there.
“Kevin [Hayes] and Mika [Zibanejad] have a knack for finding late guys, so if I go, I know chances are good that they’re going to find me.”
With the way the game is evolving, it is possible one coach one game will decide to go with four forwards and one defenseman during regulation, at least as an experiment. Staal thought about the possibility when it was presented to him.
“I never trust forwards,” he said, laughing. “If I’m coaching, that’s never happening.”
There is something that won’t be happening again anytime soon — or more likely, ever — with Quinn behind the New York bench, and that is the five-forward power play the coach introduced in Toronto on Saturday and stayed with through the club’s two man-advantages in this one.
The five forwards — Zibanejad, Hayes, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Vlad Namestnikov — squeezed the life out of the gambit, generating nothing while staying on for extended sessions. The unit was on for 1:51 of a second-period power play (which meant Sergei Zubov, er, Staal got on for the final 0:09) and then for the full 1:17 remaining on a man-advantage that had carried over from the second period.
Quinn had said Saturday he was looking to get his five best power-play guys on as a unit, but that never made sense. Fact is, Neal Pionk has been the team’s most effective player with the man-advantage. Indeed, entering the weekend, Pionk had been on for 15 power-play goals in 69:43, or one about every 4:38 (thanks Naturalstattrick) while the next most efficient, Zibanejad, had been on for 15 power-play goals in 100:22, or one about every 6:41.
Switching up the power play to move Pionk onto a second unit that barely touched the ice while the Blueshirts went 0-for-4 represents the ultimate in overthinking it. Which Quinn all but pledged would not happen again. (Not the overthinking; the 5F power play.)
“You watched it the way I have,” Quinn said to the fellow inquiring about whether the plan would remain in effect. “What do you think I’m going to do?
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